Reasons for IRS lawsuit
A little over two years ago, my life changed. At 6:20 a.m. on Feb. 29, 2012, my then-girlfriend told me there were two IRS special agents at the door. I had moved to my new apartment at the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton just three months earlier.
I was surprised, having never had more than minor traffic violations. I had never been the subject of any action in the criminal justice system. No arrests, no charges, ever.
The Internal Revenue Service has never audited me, let alone sent more than two billing notices to me since I started earning an income in 2002 at the age of 19.
The subpoenas asked for all correspondence for my small business from 2005 through the date of the interview. Every contract, letter, e-mail, invoice, and bank statement. The requests seemed broad to me, both in the time period covered and the fact that they did not seem to have a particular "smoking gun" that the government was searching for.
As the agents were handing me the subpoenas, they got a cellphone call. One of the agents said something to the effect of, "Yes, we're here now. OK, see you soon." A few minutes later, there was another knock on my door.
Several agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation said they were there to execute a search warrant and gave me a copy to read. Since the warrant included my cellphone and laptop, I was denied access to both, as well as all the documents requested in the subpoenas. I asked the lead agent, "Can I get my lawyer's number out of my iPhone?" He said no.
The subpoenas had a return date of several weeks later, as is standard practice. What did the government assume I would do? Perhaps it incorrectly thought I would destroy or otherwise hide what it believed was potential evidence.
This heavy-handed approach is unusual for a 29-year-old with no history of criminal behavior, let alone tax-compliance issues.
I then asked if I could call my sister, who is an attorney. After being told several times I could not, an FBI agent told me he was under the impression I was still asking to use my cellphone, and not the house phone on the wall. Since that phone was not part of the search, I was allowed to call her (and wake her up) at 6:50 a.m.
At about 7:30 a.m., my new legal team arrived.
The two-person team that morning was led by Gregory P. Miller, who is a managing partner at Drinker Biddle & Reath, a former assistant U.S. attorney, and a former chief of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The other team member was Matthew A. Luber, an experienced associate in Drinker Biddle's commercial litigation practice group.
Miller told me we would wait until the search was over at my apartment and then head to Drinker Biddle's offices at One Logan Square. My office at the time was at Two Logan Square.
I spent the day at Drinker Biddle discussing the subpoenas and search warrant. Since my phone and laptop had been seized, I did not have an opportunity to check the day's news stories. I am a frequent reader of the news of the day, and enjoy reading the DealBook blog at the New York Times, Philly.com, and the Washington Post. In the early afternoon, when I was able to use a Drinker Biddle laptop, I was surprised to see that I was the top story on Philly.com. The article, "FBI seizes records of Rep. Fattah's son," was written by talented writers, and it included a photo of plainclothes federal agents entering my apartment building at around 6:30 that morning.
How did The Inquirer know in advance to assign a photographer to be there?
The IRS, the FBI, and the Department of Justice obviously had a subset of employees who knew the search warrant, subpoenas, and interview were going to happen that day and at that specific time. Until the morning the IRS agents arrived, I had no knowledge I was the subject of a federal investigation.
This is probably the most important issue to be decided in the federal civil lawsuit I filed seeking damages of nearly $1 million, court costs, and a formal apology from the IRS. I intend to get to the bottom of the disclosure to the media of my name, my address, and the time of the government's actions on Feb. 29, 2012.
The IRS and related federal agencies have a responsibility not to chase headlines. There is a reason for the presumption of innocence, which is part of the foundation of our criminal justice system.
The government should not take steps to embarrass any person under suspicion of committing a crime, even if the person under suspicion is a member of a high-profile family.
Chaka Fattah Jr. is president of 259 Strategies LLC, a marketing and management consulting firm. He is the son of U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.). firstname.lastname@example.org